For eight minutes late in the fourth quarter today, even Herschel Walker's greatness wasn't enough to help Georgia. As Walker stood on the sideline, Auburn moved relentlessly toward a touchdown that would have cost the Bulldogs their No. 1 ranking and possibly the Southeastern Conference title.
But because Auburn does not pass well from its wishbone offense, Georgia won its 10th straight game, 19-14, giving Coach Vince Dooley his sixth SEC title, third in a row, one for each of Walker's college seasons.
Walker had another superb day, gaining 177 yards and scoring two touchdowns, one a 47-yard run that could be the highlight of a highlight film. But the Georgia defense almost offset his fine work with some less-than-No. 1 play in the last period.
Now only Georgia Tech stands between the Bulldogs and a second undefeated regular season in three years.
Those are the Walker years at Georgia. The Bulldogs are 32-2 in that span, during which he has moved into the fourth spot on the NCAA all-time rushing list with 5,097 yards. Only one other player (Tony Dorsett) has gained 1,500 or more yards three times in his college career, and Walker still has a year left.
But more important is Walker's role on this team. It is an accepted football cliche that, because of the sport's complexities, one man can't dominate. But Walker does. Without him, Georgia would be good, but certainly not a possible national champion. Its defense was ranked 30th in the country before today, and its offense has become the Southern California of the South. Student body right, student body left, with Walker doing the carrying.
And just like the great USC teams, opponents can't seem to stop this one-dimensional approach, even when Georgia quarterback John Lastinger can complete just 41 percent of his passes. In this one, Auburn stacked the line to halt Walker, but it still couldn't.
"They know I'd like to win the Heisman (Trophy)," said Walker. "But if I don't, I won't cry. As long as I'm proud of myself and my team, that's really enough."
Auburn led twice, the last time with 13:54 left after Lionel (Little Train) James' stunning 87-yard run. But Georgia responded immediately to turn a 14-13 deficit into a 19-14 lead on a three-yard run by Walker that ended what Dooley called "one of the guttiest drives I've seen in a long, long while."
That appeared to be enough for Georgia. Auburn's offense had been spotty all afternoon and now, with all that was at stake, the Bulldog defense certainly would clamp down. It finally did, but just barely.
Auburn took over at its 20 with 8:42 left. The Tigers pounded away at the Georgia flanks and before the Bulldogs could adjust, Auburn had three first downs, the last at the Georgia 36. But moments later, quarterback Randy Campbell, a better option runner than passer, faced a third and 11.
Campbell belied his scouting reports by completing a 13-yard pass to split end Mike Edwards. First down at the 24. On third and five, James cut around right end, slipped but still picked up a first down at the 14 with 3:04 to go.
Walker, no emotion showing on his face, stood next to Dooley near the bench. "Some of us wanted to get out there and play defense," Walker said later.
But the defense ultimately didn't need extra help. After Auburn was called for illegal motion, fullback Bo Jackson was stopped by end Dale Carver for a two-yard loss. Then Carver sacked Campbell for another nine yards. Faced with a third and 26, Auburn called time. Sixty-four seconds remained.
The Tigers called a pass play to tight end Ed West over the middle. It should have gained probably 20 yards but West stumbled and settled for a nine-yard gain. Fourth and 17 at the 21, 45 seconds left.
Auburn obviously had to pass. And Georgia obviously had to blitz. The Tigers lined up in a wishbone and Campbell, more comfortable throwing on the run, dropped back unsteadily after faking a handoff. He barely got off a high wobbler before being blanketed by red shirts.
The ball was intended for Edwards, but he was surrounded, too. Ronnie Harris knocked it away, allowing Georgia fans to finally celebrate.
"I was in a dilemma (on Auburn's final drive)," Dooley said. "I didn't know if I wanted a quick score so we could get the ball back or if the defense would come up with something to stop them. We finally made something happen, but we were tired and they were whipping us."
Said Auburn Coach Pat Dye: "We didn't want to score too soon, and then give them the ball back. We played it just like a fine-tuned fiddle."
Georgia has fiddled around during most games this season. This was the seventh time the Bulldogs have had to rally in the fourth quarter to protect their unbeaten streak.
Georgia's winning touchdown drive showed Walker at his best. No flashy runs this time, just tough, physical yards despite the pounding of Auburn players. The Bulldogs needed something special from him, considering the drive came after James' marvelous run, which hyped an already fired-up Auburn defense.
Said Auburn linebacker Chris Martin: "I'll be glad for Auburn when Herschel's gone."